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Gberefu... A Festival Of Memories!

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Gberefu... A Festival Of Memories!

By Segun Ojewuyi


GBEREFU is a barren outpost of washed sand by the shores of Badagry.  It grows nothing, it saves nothing, aspires to nothing but just stay barren.  It is as if the land carries the burden of guilt or perhaps it is still deeply penitent for being so compliant when slavers marched millions of shackled men, women and children, through its bowels into the unknown of dehumanising slavery.  Gberefu stares at you in remorse, the howling voices of whiplashed souls, ringing forever in the recesses of its memory.  It was the last piece of African earth walked by the enslaved en-route the underbelly of the slave ship.  On this shore of the Atlantic, it is a painful irony that a land is burdened with such a name and such history.  Gberefu —  the land of perched earth, dryness, emptiness, nothingness and barrenness — was the shore of painful disorientation and forlornness, where human dignity was finally brought to its knees.

To break a man physically is nothing compared with breaking his spirit.  Burrowing into the deep eternity of the earth, the slavers paused for a moment of insurance, to dig a well at Gberefu.  They dug until they struck water.  Clean natural water that was not of the salty, furious atlantic.  Jesus of Nazareth fed his own multitude by the ocean, multiplying fish and turning salty water into sparkling wine.  But not this band of thieves, they were miracle workers of another sort.  The water of the well at Gberefu — water that should replenish life and renew the broken spirit of man, woman and child — they turned into a concoction of amnesiacs for a final mind-sweeping ritual to complete the objectification of the enslaved.

It was this water, Gberefu’s God-given, primordial antidote to eternal barrenness, that the slavers brewed into what they called the “Slaves Spirit Attenuation Well”.  This brooding drink that wiped out all memories and kinships to family, motherland and gods, was administered with an equally troubling oath, to men and women yanked off their serene lives and marched in chains from the hinterlands of Yoruba towns and the eastern shores of Calabar.  The tired and by now confused enslaved, eagerly drank and mouthed the telling oath in voices caught betwixt a prayer and a curse:

I am leaving this land/My spirit leaves with me/I shall not come back/My shackles do not break/It is the shackles that hold the ship down/My ancestors bear me witness/I shall not return/This land shall depart/My soul do not revolt/My spirit go along with me/I depart to that land unknown/I shall not return.

For some the oath and the poisoned well did not quite have the desired effect.  Their minds clear as day, their strong will tall as the baobab, these warriors would jump overboard, plunging into the depths of the ocean.  These departed souls, August Wilson the African American dramatist would call the ‘Gems of the Ocean’.  in the depths of the ocean, their spirits were unshackled and they built a mythical paradise of spiritual fortitude that Wilson names the “City of bones’.  Every African American must make a spiritual pilgrimage to the city of bones, for full self re-discovery and restitution, insists Wilson.

The others, those who lived through the ordeal of the atlantic-crossing would become cartels, for the open slave markets of Europe and the Americas or the indentured servitude of the Caribbean. They would give birth to Soul music, Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues.  They would tap into memories residual in the blood and bring the ferment of African culture and art to an otherwise Gberefu Euro-American culturescape.  Those whose culture and memories were to have been attenuated at the well in Gberefu, would become the fertile spring of American cultural life.  Their imagination would transform the land in agriculture, medicine, engineering and yes, politics!

For us the ones left behind, we have become inheritors of Gberefu, owners of a legacy of barren leaders, of forlorn days and hopeless tomorrows.  It is as if we have gotten drunk on the water of the spirit attenuation well and we have wrought disaster out of every  blessing, every farmland, and promise.


In defiance I propose a festival of memories, a reverberating celebration of the triumph of the human spirit over the evil machinations of slavers and slavery.  I contest the abandonment of Gberefu by the State of Lagos and the Nigerian nation.  I advocate A Gberefu festival of memories, enveloping the shores of Badagry, accentuating the slave routes, spots and historical monuments.  I propose a bi-annual Theatre Festival for our blood in the diaspora and for our memories of the halcyon days before the deluge of self-inflicted disasters.  I urge a return in celebration of the supremacy of the human spirit over barrenness.

Gberefu is an irony, a parable of the well of pure blessings from mother earth, even if the strange thoughts of men sought to change its destiny.  In vain they labored, for temporary was the attenuation.

When the nights came on the plantations of South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and other posts of slave life, the enslaved kins of motherland still remembered to sing songs, remake melodies, rework prayers into incantations  —  residuals from past lives as Yorubas, Ibibios, ebiras idomas and many other enslaved tribes.  All over the diaspora, where Africans were dispersed, culture took root and through ‘blood memory’ (a la August Wilson again), African life was recreated, reconstructed and repositioned.

Let us nationalise the treasures of history, culture, politics and commerce, ensconced on the shores of Badagry.  The Badagry festival by the people of Badagry and the Black Heritage festival by the Lagos state government should receive the engaged patronage of the Federal government as the third but perhaps the most resonant leg to NAFEST and the Abuja Carnival — where dance has taken root.  Let us have an International Theater Festival of Memories in defiance of Gberefu! Let us turn the treasures of history and culture into real living treasures of art, culture, politics in the true nature of dramatic performance.  Let us reposition this for tourism for national development. - Nigerian news, lifestyle news, naija, Nigeria, West Africa

Updated 3 Years ago

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